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Pam Hendrix Center for Education Abroad

Culture and Identity Abroad

Cultural Adjustment

The more that you learn about your host country before studying abroad, the better prepared you will be for day-to-day interactions and in the event of an emergency overseas. Make sure to research the culture and customs of your host country. Some important questions to consider:

  • What is the weather like in your host country?
  • How do men and women typically dress?
  • How does the host country view Americans?
  • Is their water safe to drink?
  • Are there any safety concerns?

It is normal to experience some form of cultural adjustment while abroad. Cultural adjustment is the challenge of adapting to an unfamiliar environment, social, economic and educational systems, and unfamiliar foods, climate and language. While cultural adjustment can be frustrating and challenging, it builds problem solving skills, better communication skills, flexibility and initiative.

Cultural adjustment has four basic stages: the Honeymoon Stage, the Frustration Stage, the Understanding Stage and the Acclimation Stage. Once you are aware of these stages, you will be better prepared to deal with them during a study abroad program. The key to coping with cultural adjustment for students and parents is patience. Do not be alarmed if in the first few days of your program, you are overwhelmed with the unfamiliar environment and feel worried or regretful. Parents should try to be supportive and assure students that what they are experiencing is normal and temporary. Remember your long-term goals for your experience!

Many students also encounter reverse cultural adjustment upon returning from their overseas experience. This comes as they adapt to jet lag, climate, food and social differences. As with culture shock, this process is temporary, and patience is crucial. One of the best ways for students to overcome reverse cultural adjustment is to get involved with international activities on campus. Please visit our Returning Students page for some of these opportunities.

Identity Abroad

We are excited about your upcoming adventure! Pam Hendrix Center for Education Abroad is ready to support all students seeking education abroad experiences. While most students anticipate using this time to explore other cultures, you may be surprised just how much you learn about yourself. When packing for a travel experience, do not forget that along with all those shoes - we also take our identities along with us. Below are some resources to support you in your personal journey at Clemson and abroad. If you have questions or concerns you want to discuss one-on-one, please schedule an appointment.

Cultures throughout the world vary in how they define and support various identities. As such, researching your host country prior to departure will help you prepare for your on-site experience.

  • First Generation College Student

    As the first person in your family to go to college, you may want some resources to support discussions with your family on why study abroad is important:

  • Gender

    Whether you have traveled before or this is your first time abroad, it is important to consider your host country’s cultural attitude towards gender identity. Gender roles abroad may differ from those in the U.S. You may choose not to behave in exactly the same ways as local men and women do; however, it is important that you educate yourself about cultural gender roles within your host community in order to make sensitive choices about how you will behave while abroad and to understand how your personal views and opinions may be interpreted by your host culture.

    Behavior and Relationships Abroad:

    • Your behavior in some situations may be viewed differently abroad than in the U.S. Consider your actions and inform yourself as best as possible about behavioral expectations, dating, and relationships in your host culture. Talk with peers who have studied in your host country before and locals your own age to gauge what is typical. You may find that what is viewed as acceptable behavior in your host country is offensive to you or makes you uncomfortable. It is important to check societal expectations with your own personal values.
    • The "rules" of dating vary from culture to culture. For example, cultural differences can make male-female friendships more challenging. Consider the implicit messages you are communicating, messages that you may not intend to send in your own cultural context. Evaluating societal differences when it comes to these relationships and modifying your behavior accordingly is part of learning and relating to another culture.
    • Additionally, it is important to educate yourself on the social norms and local laws regarding same-sex relationships. Read more on the LGBTQ+ page below.
    • U.S. Department of State - Recommendations for women travelers.
    • Diversity Abroad: Women Going Abroad - Questions and tips to consider for women going abroad.
  • Heritage Seekers

    For some students, studying abroad in a particular country or region can offer them a unique perspective into their own heritage. They choose to study in a country of ancestral heritage because it is somewhat familiar. If you have been curious to examine your ancestral history more closely through study abroad, the following resources can get you started with considerations to think about beforehand.

  • International Students

    International students at Clemson can and do study abroad! To go abroad, you must work with a study abroad advisor and your international student advisor. Do not be afraid to ask questions – we are here to help!

    As part of the planning process for study abroad, you should make sure you understand all entry requirements to your intended study abroad destination. This also applies to any countries outside of the program that you may wish to visit while abroad.

    There are additional considerations to studying abroad while you are a J-1 or F-1 visa holder in the U.S., including:

    • Depending on your country of citizenship, you may be required to obtain a visa for your destination country. In some cases, international students may be required to return to their home country to apply for the study abroad visa.
      • The Pam Hendrix Center for Education Abroad and Office of International Services have limited resources and cannot advise on any non-U.S. student visas, so most of the research will have to be on your own. We recommend contacting the nearest embassy or consulate of your destination country and looking at direct government websites (.gov).
      • Consider the diplomatic relationships between your home country and the destination country. If there are strained or unusual political situations, it might be more difficult for you to get a visa to study abroad. If you have questions about political situations affecting your ability to get a visa, you are strongly encouraged to speak with your adviser early in the process.
    • There are also considerations to ensure you maintain F-1 or J-1 visa status in the U.S. while you study abroad (for example, if your visa is set to expire while you are abroad). Your IS adviser can help you understand the necessary steps.
    • In addition to any required visa for your destination country, you will also need several other documents to travel: a valid passport that expires at least six months after the end of your program, a valid U.S. visa, and your most recent I-20/DS-2019 with a valid travel signature (for re-entry to the U.S.).
    • Review travel information on the International Services website:
      • Before traveling, make photocopies of ALL documents: passport, I-20/DS-2019, visa stamp, I-94 record. Save digital copies, leave a set of copies at home or with a friend and carry a copy with you separate from your originals. Lost or stolen documents are much easier to replace if you have digital copies.
  • LGBTQ+

    Studying abroad as part of the LGBTQ+ community can present unique opportunities and challenges in exploring a new culture. Every country around the world has varying laws, customs, and beliefs about the LGBTQ community, and therefore will react and treat LGBTQ travelers in a unique way. Below, you will find some resources to help prepare and support you as you navigate the study abroad process.

  • Non-traditional Students

    As a non-traditional student, you may have different responsibilities than many “traditional” students such as full-time jobs, families, extenuating financial obligations, etc. These responsibilities are important to consider when choosing a study abroad experience. A variety of program types are available to meet the diverse needs of non-traditional students such as short-term experiences for those unable to take extended time away from a job to programs allowing spouses and dependents to join.

  • Race and Ethnicity

    Race and ethnicity are presented uniquely in unfamiliar cultures. While abroad, you may find yourself to be part of the racial and/or ethnic majority or minority group, which could be different than what you are used to in your home community. This could bring a tremendous opportunity for self-discovery and challenge your notion of race and ethnicity. It is important to be aware of how your identity is viewed in your host culture and we encourage you to conduct research on your host country’s history, policy, and the current perspectives when it comes to race and ethnicity.

  • Students with Disabilities

    Every country has a different attitude towards people with different abilities. Even before you are accepted into a program, if you feel comfortable, you may want to discuss your disabilities and required accommodations with your study abroad advisor. They can assist in connecting you to programs that can meet your needs and provide a space for you to be successful in your study abroad experience.

  • Students with High Financial Need

    Students with high financial need may wonder how they can fit studying abroad into their budget. While these experiences may seem like an added expense, early planning can make the process more attainable. In fact, some programs are less expensive than a semester of Clemson in-state tuition! Scholarships specifically for students with high-financial needs are available to offset costs.

    • Meet with Financial Aid to determine how your current Financial Aid package may be utilized for study abroad programs.
    • Visit our Scholarships Page to learn more about numerous other scholarships.
    • Check with your College or Academic Department to see if there is funding available for study abroad.
    • Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship - The U.S. Department of State’s Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship Program enables students of limited financial means to study or intern abroad through awards of up to $5,000.
    • Fund for Education Abroad invests in deserving U.S. undergraduates who are least likely to study abroad including students with high financial need.
    • Diversity Abroad: Students on a Budget Abroad - a resource with information on choosing locations with lower costs of living, using your Financial Aid package, applying for scholarships and personal fundraising.
    • Most third-party providers have specific funding/scholarships available for students participating in their programs. Look into these opportunities too.
  • Student Athletes

    Studying abroad as a student-athlete may require additional considerations, such as a term that works with your sport, access to a gym or training facility abroad, as well as other considerations.

    • Make sure you talk to your coach and athletics academic advisor so that they can support you in a search for a study abroad program that will meet your academic and training requirements.
    • Check out the NCAA’s website for success stories of athletes who have gone abroad during college and participated in volunteer, study abroad, and even athletic competitions.
    • Read a story from a former student-athlete about How to Study Abroad as a College Athlete.
  • Underrepresented Majors

    Students from certain majors, such as STEM fields, are often underrepresented in study abroad programs. These students may feel that there are no programs available for their majors or that studying abroad will delay their graduation. See the resources below for how to make a study/intern abroad experience part of your academic plan!

  • Military, Veteran and ROTC

    Military, Veteran, ROTC and military-affiliated students have used their benefits to help fund their credit-bearing education abroad experience. It is imperative to plan if you would like to use your Post 9/11 GI Bill benefits to help cover the cost of your overseas program. Work closely with your Study Abroad Coordinator and the Veterans Benefits Coordinator to find a program that fits the requirements of the VA and your education abroad goals.

    • VA Post-9/11 GI Bill: Study Abroad Program - This publication from the Veteran Benefits Administration provides guidance on how the VA could potentially provide funding for your education abroad experience based on program type.
    • Gilman-McCain Scholarship - This is a congressionally funded initiative of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State and is named after the late senator John S. McCain from Arizona. The Gilman-McCain Scholarship provides awards of $5,000 for child dependents of active-duty service members to study or intern abroad on credit-bearing programs.
    • ROTC Project GO - This initiative provides scholarships for ROTC students for critical language study.
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